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H.G. Wells
British author
in full Herbert George Wells

born , Sept. 21, 1866, Bromley, Kent, Eng.
died Aug. 13, 1946, London

English novelist, journalist, sociologist, and historian best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds and such comic novels as Tono-Bungay and The History of Mr. Polly.

Early life
Wells was the son of domestic servants turned small shopkeepers. He grew up under the continual threat of poverty, and at age 14, after a very inadequate education supplemented by his inexhaustible love of reading, he was apprenticed to a draper in Windsor. His employer soon dismissed him; and he became assistant to a chemist, then to another draper, and finally, in 1883, an usher at Midhurst Grammar School. At 18 he won a scholarship to study biology at the Normal School (later the Royal College) of Science, in South Kensington, London, where T.H. Huxley was one of his teachers. He graduated from London University in 1888, becoming a science teacher and undergoing a period of ill health and financial worries, the latter aggravated by his marriage, in 1891, to his cousin, Isabel Mary Wells. The marriage was not a success, and in 1894 Wells ran off with Amy Catherine Robbins (d. 1927), a former pupil, who in 1895 became his second wife.

Early writings
Wells’s first published book was a Textbook of Biology (1893). With his first novel, The Time Machine (1895), which was immediately successful, he began a series of science fiction novels that revealed him as a writer of marked originality and an immense fecundity of ideas: The Wonderful Visit (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), The First Men in the Moon (1901), and The Food of the Gods (1904). He also wrote many short stories, which were collected in The Stolen Bacillus (1895), The Plattner Story (1897), and Tales of Space and Time (1899). For a time he acquired a reputation as a prophet of the future, and indeed, in The War in the Air (1908), he foresaw certain developments in the military use of aircraft. But his imagination flourished at its best not in the manner of the comparatively mechanical anticipations of Jules Verne but in the astronomical fantasies of The First Men in the Moon and The War of the Worlds, from the latter of which the image of the Martian has passed into popular mythology.

Behind his inventiveness lay a passionate concern for man and society, which increasingly broke into the fantasy of his science fiction, often diverting it into satire and sometimes, as in The Food of the Gods, destroying its credibility. Eventually, Wells decided to abandon science fiction for comic novels of lower middle-class life, most notably in Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900), Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (1905), and The History of Mr. Polly (1910). In these novels, and in Tono-Bungay (1909), he drew on memories of his own earlier life, and, through the thoughts of inarticulate yet often ambitious heroes, revealed the hopes and frustrations of clerks, shop assistants, and underpaid teachers, who had rarely before been treated in fiction with such sympathetic understanding. In these novels, too, he made his liveliest, most persuasive comment on the problems of Western society that were soon to become his main preoccupation. The sombre vision of a dying world in The Time Machine shows that, in his long-term view of humanity’s prospects, Wells felt much of the pessimism prevalent in the 1890s. In his short-term view, however, his study of biology led him to hope that human society would evolve into higher forms, and with Anticipations (1901), Mankind in the Making (1903), and A Modern Utopia (1905), he took his place in the British public’s mind as a leading preacher of the doctrine of social progress. About this time, too, he became an active socialist, and in 1903 joined the Fabian Society, though he soon began to criticize its methods. The bitter quarrel he precipitated by his unsuccessful attempt to wrest control of the Fabian Society from George Bernard Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1906–07 is retold in his novel The New Machiavelli (1911), in which the Webbs are parodied as the Baileys.

Middle and late works
After about 1906 the pamphleteer and the novelist were in conflict in Wells, and only The History of Mr. Polly and the lighthearted Bealby (1915) can be considered primarily as fiction. His later novels are mainly discussions of social or political themes that show little concern for the novel as a literary form. Wells himself affected not to care about the literary merit of his work, and he rejected the tutelage of the American novelist Henry James, saying, “I would rather be called a journalist than an artist.” Indeed, his novel Boon (1915) included a spiteful parody of James. His next novel, Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), though touched by the prejudice and shortsightedness of wartime, gives a brilliant picture of the English people in World War I.

World War I shook Wells’s faith in even short-term human progress, and in subsequent works he modified his conception of social evolution, putting forward the view that man could only progress if he would adapt himself to changing circumstances through knowledge and education. To help bring about this process of adaptation Wells began an ambitious work of popular education, of which the main products were The Outline of History (1920; revised 1931), The Science of Life (1931), cowritten with Julian Huxley and G.P. Wells (his elder son by his second wife), and The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind (1932). At the same time he continued to publish works of fiction, in which his gifts of narrative and dialogue give way almost entirely to polemics. His sense of humour reappears, however, in the reminiscences of his Experiment in Autobiography (1934).

In 1933 Wells published a novelized version of a film script, The Shape of Things to Come. (Produced by Alexander Korda, the film Things to Come [1936] remains, on account of its special effects, one of the outstanding British films of the 20th century.) Wells’s version reverts to the utopianism of some earlier books, but as a whole his outlook grew steadily less optimistic, and some of his later novels contain much that is bitterly satiric. Fear of a tragic wrong turning in the development of the human race, to which he had early given imaginative expression in the grotesque animal mutations of The Island of Doctor Moreau, dominates the short novels and fables he wrote in the later 1930s. Wells was now ill and aging. With the outbreak of World War II, he lost all confidence in the future, and in Mind at the End of Its Tether (1945) he depicts a bleak vision of a world in which nature has rejected, and is destroying, humankind.

In spite of an awareness of possible world catastrophe that underlay much of his earlier work and flared up again in old age, Wells in his lifetime was regarded as the chief literary spokesman of the liberal optimism that preceded World War I. No other writer has caught so vividly the energy of this period, its adventurousness, its feeling of release from the conventions of Victorian thought and propriety. Wells’s influence was enormous, both on his own generation and on that which immediately followed it. None of his contemporaries did more to encourage revolt against Christian tenets and accepted codes of behaviour, especially as regards sex, in which, both in his books and in his personal life, he was a persistent advocate of an almost complete freedom. Though in many ways hasty, ill-tempered, and contradictory, Wells was undeviating and fearless in his efforts for social equality, world peace, and what he considered to be the future good of humanity.

As a creative writer his reputation rests on the early science fiction books and on the comic novels. In his science fiction, he took the ideas and fears that haunted the mind of his age and gave them symbolic expression as brilliantly conceived fantasy made credible by the quiet realism of its setting. In the comic novels, though his psychology lacks subtlety and the construction of his plots is often awkward, he shows a fund of humour and a deep sympathy for ordinary people. Wells’s prose style is always careless and lacks grace, yet he has his own gift of phrase and a true ear for vernacular speech, especially that of the lower middle class of London and southeastern England. His best work has a vigour, vitality, and exuberance unsurpassed, in its way, by that of any other British writer of the early 20th century.

Norman Cornthwaite Nicholson



The Island of Dr. Moreau


A prophetic science fiction tale, The island of Doctor Moreau takes on an even more sinister light given contemporary debates about cloning and genetic experimentation, as well as the contentious issues that still surround Moreau's modus operandi—vivisection.
As with The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, Moreau confronts readers with a gruesome extrapolation of Darwinist theory, which embodies many of the concerns arising from the publication of The Origin of Species (1859). Moreau also represents a series of fundamental anxieties about the role of science and human responsibility. Here, the archetypal mad scientist who creates without due care or any apparent concern for the consequences of his work, is as vile as the beasts he manipulates. This orgiastic society of half-men, half-beasts, with their deliberately mutilated commandments—"Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"—reflects contemporary society clearly enough, without needing the final sting. The barbarism of Moreau's methods is as horrific as the issues that lie beneath; developments in science mean that the text has as much capacity to shock now as on first publication, as Moreau flays his animals alive and slowly molds them into humans. This may be a far cry from the infinite delicacy of genetic manipulation, but it still succeeds in arousing all of the classic fears of "unknown" scientific methods.


The Invisible Man


The antihero of The invisible Man, Griffin, is a lowly scientific demonstrator who has found a way to make himself invisible, by which means he intends to make the world work for rather than against him; "An invisible man is a man of power." Griffin soon realizes, however, the disadvantages and dangers of invisibility. Even though he has no material self he is pursued by dogs, which pick up his scent; the food he eats has visible form inside his invisible body. Wells exploited the farcical possibilities of the situation he created, undoubtedly drawing on early cinema's exploitations of the new medium's abilities to animate inanimate objects and to move matter through space without visible agency. Griffin follows in the footsteps of other over-reachers—Faust, Frankenstein—becoming increasingly destructive as he pursues total power.
The black comedy of The Invisible Man, however, renders it no less of a moral fable. Invisibility becomes a metaphor for the ways in which Griffin places himself outside the norms of his society. One spur to the novel's creation was Wells' hostility to the widespread popularity of Nietzschean thought, and, in particular, of the model of the Ubermensch or "Superman."The novel is also a parable of the ways in which scientific discovery can be used to further evil ends as well as good. This was by no means a new theme, but Wells added to it a fascination with the details of scientific experimentation, bringing science and fiction together in new combinations.



The War of the Worlds


Like so many of H.G.Wells' pioneering science fiction texts, The War of the Worlds Introduces a theme that was to find countless imitations. His work has been reproduced directly in film, comic book, and even progressive rock, but perhaps the most well-known exploration is Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of 1938. Interspersed with music from "Ramon Requello and his orchestra," it reported a full scale Martian invasion. That the initial transmission provoked panic in America, though of course exaggerated by the media, is testament to the greatness of Wells' fiction.
The plot is simple: a strange disk lands on Horsell Common, Surrey, and eventually hatches. The alien inside is malevolent, destroying all with its "heat ray" and striking terror in the heart with the eerie battle-cry of "ulla." Humanity seems powerless in its wake and the Martians easily seize control.
The grandeur of Wells' vision is at once simple and deeply complex, suggesting humanity's inherent fallibility and lack of control. At the same time, Wells introduces a series of underlying motifs that question social and moral beliefs. Finally, the spectacle of the Martians is both awe- and fear-inspiring, and the nature of the aliens themselves has been continually reinterpreted since the novel's first publication.





The Time Machine


The Time Machine, Wells' first novel, is a "scientific romance" which inverts the nineteenth-century belief in evolution as progress. The story follows a Victorian scientist, who claims that he has invented a device that allows him to travel through time, and has visited the future, arriving in the year 802,701 in what had once been London. There he finds the future race, or, more accurately, races, for the human species has "evolved" into two disparate forms. Above ground live the Eloi—gentle, fairy-like, childish creatures, whose existence appears to be free of struggle. However, another race of beings exists— the Morlocks, underground dwellers who, once subservient, now prey upon the feeble, defenseless Eloi. By setting the action nearly a million years in the future, Wells was illustrating the Darwinian model of evolution by natural selection, "fast-forwarding" through the slow process of changes to species, the physical world, and the solar system.
The novel is a class fable, as well as a scientific parable, in which the two societies of Wells' own period (the upper classes and theiower orders") are recast as equally, though differently, "degenerate" beings. "Degeneration" is evolution in reverse, while Wells' dystopic vision in The Time Machine is a deliberate debunking of the Utopian fictions of the late nineteenth century, in particular William Morris' News from Nowhere. Where Morris depicts a pastoral, socialist Utopia, Wells represents a world in which the human struggle is doomed to failure.



Type of work: Novel
Author: H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
Type of plot: Fantasy
Time of plot: Late nineteenth century
Locale: England
First published: 1895


Wells's first novel, despite its exuberant style, is a delineation of unfulfilled hope in which the Time Traveler's dreams for a future founded upon scientific technology and social organization are dashed by a vision of humankind reduced to a level of brutality or effeteness, then finally extinguished.


Principal Characters

The Time Traveler, who exhibits his Time Machine one evening after dinner. The next week, his guests arrive for dinner but do not find him home. Informed that they are to proceed without him, they sit down to dinner. Later, dirty and limping, their host arrives. He has travelled to the year 802,701, the time of the sunset of humanity. He tells his guests what he found: The people, weak, rounded creatures about four feet high, are vegetarians called Eloi, living in enormous buildings. Underground live the predatory Morlocks, apelike creatures also descended from man. They were responsible for the disappearance of the Time Machine, but the Time Traveler says he managed to get it back and take off as the Morlocks sprang at him. Then, after quick and horrifying excursions ahead millions of years to that distant future time when the sun is dying and the earth is enveloped in bitter cold and deathly stillness, he hurried back to the present. Next day the Time Traveler silences his friends' doubts by departing again on his Time Machine; he does not return, and his friends can only wonder what mishap has made him a lost wanderer in time and space.
Weena, a girl of the Eloi. The Time Traveler saves her from drowning, and she becomes his friend and guide. After sightseeing, they find that they have walked too far to return that night. They build a fire on a hill to keep away the dark-loving Morlocks, but later the Time Traveler wakes to find the fire out and Weena missing.


The Story

After dinner, one evening, the Time Traveler led the discussion to the subject of the relationship of time and space. It was his theory that time was a fourth dimension, and that his concept could be proved. To the astonishment of his guests, he exhibited a model of his Time Machine, which, he declared, could travel backward or forward in time. One of the guests was invited to touch a lever. To the amazement of all, the machine disappeared. The Time Traveler explained that the instrument was no longer visible because it was traveling into the past at such great speed that it was below the threshold of visibility.
The following week the Time Traveler was not at home to greet his dinner guests when they arrived, but he had left word that they were to proceed without him. Everyone was at the table when their host came in, dirty from head to toe, limping, and with a cut on his chin. After he had changed his clothes and dined, he told his friends the story of the day's adventures.
That morning he had taken off on his Time Machine. As he reeled through space, the days shot past him like minutes, the rapid alternation of light and darkness hurting the Time Traveler's eyes. Landing and falling from his machine when he braked too suddenly, he found himself on the side of a hill. In the misty light he could see the figure of a winged sphinx on a bronze pedestal. As the sun came out, the Time Traveler saw enormous buildings on the slope. Some figures were coming toward him. One was a little man about four feet tall. Regaining his confidence, the Time Traveler waited to meet this citizen of the future.
Soon a group of these creatures gathered around the voyager. Without a common language, he and his new acquaintances had to communicate with signs. After they had examined the Time Machine, from which he had the presence of mind to remove the levers, one of them asked him if he had come from the sun.
The Time Traveler was led to one of the large buildings, where he was seated upon a cushion and given fruit to eat. Everyone was a vegetarian, animals having become extinct. When he had eaten, he tried to learn his new friends' language, but without much success. These people, who called themselves the Eloi, were not able to concentrate and tired quickly.
Free to wander about, the Time Traveler climbed a hill and from the crest saw the ruins of an enormous granite structure. Looking at some of the creatures who were following him, he realized that all wore similar garb and had the same soft, rounded figures. Children could be distinguished only by their size.
The Time Traveler realized that he was seeing the sunset of humanity. In the society of the future there was no need for strength. The world was at peace and secure. The strong of body or mind would only have felt frustrated.
As he looked about to find a place to sleep, he saw that his Time Machine had disappeared. He tried to wake the people in the building in which he had dined, but he succeeded only in frightening them. At last he went back to the lawn and there, greatly worried over his plight, fell asleep.
The next morning he managed to trace the path the Time Machine made to the base of the sphinx, but the bronze doors in the pedestal were closed. The Time Traveler tried to intimate to some of the Eloi that he wished to open the doors, but they answered him with looks of insult and reproach. He attempted to hammer in the doors with a stone, but he soon stopped from weariness.
Weena, a young girl he rescued from drowning, became the Time Traveler's friend and guide. On the fourth morning, while he explored one of the ruins, he saw eyes staring at him from the dark. Curious, he followed a small, apelike figure to a well-like opening, down which it retreated. He was convinced that this creature was also a descendant of man, a subterranean species that worked below ground to support the dwellers in the upper world.
Convinced that the Morlocks, as the subterranean dwellers were called, were responsible for the disappearance of his Time Machine and hoping to learn more about them, he climbed down into one of the wells. At its bottom he discovered a tunnel which led into a cavern in which he saw a table set with a joint of meat. The Morlocks were carnivorous. He was able to distinguish, too, some enormous machinery.
The next day the Time Traveler and Weena visited a green porcelain museum containing animal skeletons, books, and machinery. Since they had walked a long distance, he planned to sleep in the woods that night with Weena and to build a fire to keep the dark-loving Morlocks away. When he saw three crouching figures in the brush, however, he changed his mind and decided he and Weena would be safer on a hill beyond the forest. He started a fire to keep their enemies at a distance.
When he awoke the fire had gone out, his matches were missing, and Weena had vanished. A fire he had started earlier was still burning, and while he slept it had set the forest on fire. Between thirty and forty Morlocks perished in the blaze while the Time Traveler watched.
When daylight returned, the Time Traveler retraced his steps to the sphinx. He slept all day and in the evening prepared to ram open the doors in the pedestal with the lever he had found in the porcelain palace. He found the doors open, his machine in plain view. As a group of Morlocks sprang at him, he took off through space.
The Time Traveler had his encounter with the Morlocks and the Eloi in the year 802,701. On his next journey he moved through millions of years, toward that time when the earth will cease rotating. He landed on a deserted beach, empty except for a flying animal, which looked like a huge white butterfly, and some crablike monsters. On he traveled, finally halting thirty million years after the time he had left his laboratory. In that distant age the sun was dying. It was bitter cold and it began to snow. All around was deathly stillness. Horrified, the Time Traveler started back toward his present.
That evening, as he told his story, his guests grew skeptical. In fact, the Time Traveler himself had to visit his laboratory to make sure his machine existed. The next day, however, all doubts ceased, for one of his friends watched him depart on his vehicle. It was this friend who wrote the story of the Time Traveler's experiences three years later. The Time Traveler had not reappeared during that time, and his friends speculated on the mishap which had made him a lost wanderer in space and time.


Critical Evaluation

With the publication of his first novel, The Time Machine, H. G. Wells made a name for himself as a writer of science fiction and a critic of his times, two characteristics he would continue to exhibit throughout his lengthy writing career. The Time Machine appeared in 1895, seven years after two other important Utopian novels: William Morris' News from Nowhere and Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. A number of late Victorian authors produced books of this type, largely in response to the events they witnessed in their own times. For some, a Utopian fiction afforded the opportunity to describe what a culture could be if people would only become less selfish, less aggressive. Of more importance, however, are the Utopian texts whose authors follow current trends to their logical conclusions in a not-too-distant or a far future. The Time Machine falls under this category and is an important novel, clearly demonstrating the effect of Charles Darwin and Ò. Í. Huxley on Victorian England. As a student of Huxley, the young Wells was exposed to the full impact of post-Darwinian thought. Victorian philosophers who applied Darwin's ideas concerning evolution to human culture perceived a struggle for survival that predicted the destruction of all that was good in human nature. This attitude clearly helped shape The Time Machine, as did Wells's own experience of growing up in a lower-class family where the disparity between the haves and the have-nots was painfully obvious.
The Time Machine functions as both a warning of present dangers and a veiled prescription for halting the downward spiral toward the death of the human species. Wells accomplishes both these goals by taking his unnamed Time Traveler on a journey to the far reaches of time, well past what we must presume has been the height of human physical and cultural evolution. When this representative of late Victorian science, culture, and values comes to rest in the year 802,701 he thinks that he has landed in a new Eden. His surroundings are like a garden, but one going to ruin rather than one flourishing and productive. Like many people from his "home time," however, the Time Traveler only reads the surface of this future world, and for some time he incorrectly interprets what he sees as signs of the noble march of progress down through future eons. After he is jarred into examining his new surroundings more closely, however, he comes to see the frail Weena for what she really is: a member of the herd on which her keepers, the subterranean Morlocks, feed. What Wells shows us is a projection of Victorian laissez-faire values, a time when machines have destroyed human initiative—and, in being allowed to do so, have destroyed Homo sapiens as well.
In the year 802,701 things are obviously not perfect. Wells means for readers to understand that progress as defined in his own times by proponents of cultural evolution and the survival-of-the-fittest ethic will only produce negative results. At some point in the Eloi and Morlocks' past, a division of labor occurred with the capitalists (Eloi) coming to depend totally upon the laborers (Morlocks) to operate the machines that ran the world. Gradually, the Eloi grew weaker and more passive; the Morlocks, kept underground to tend the factories, grew more brutal. Both subspecies of Homo sapiens were caught in a destructive symbiotic relationship, destructive at least in terms of how "human" either group could be said to be. What the Time Traveler confronts in the year 802,701 is the result of human devolution, a degeneration brought about because people no longer needed to struggle to survive and thus lost initiative. The world of the frail Weena is not paradise regained but the very essence of a Darwinian hell. On the evidence of The Time Machine it is obvious that Wells had mastered his teacher Huxley's lesson: It is fallacious to assume that escape from pain and suffering is a desirable goal. In the year 802,701 it is clear that such an escape has been responsible for the destruction of the human will to survive. What remains is a pale, unquestioning lassitude.
This future garden world is only an overgrown ruin of former human greatness, for the Eloi and the Morlocks are certainly not human but something beyond, and something far less. The outward decay of the buildings mirrors the creatures' interior erosion. It is also no accident that language itself has declined to a very simple level, for language is what marks the human intellectual capacity to question, evaluate, and explore. Weena can do none of these things. Wells even confronts his Time Traveler with a sphinx, the enigmatic figure that Oedipus had met so many centuries in the past. And the beast's unstated riddle remains the same: What is man? The Time Machine, of course, is Wells's attempt to provide readers with an answer.
Although the Time Traveler's sojourn in the year 802,701 makes up the longest section of the book, it is not Wells's final statement. Having failed to protect Weena from the Morlocks, the Time Traveler again takes to his machine. His next stop is brief, but long enough for Wells to show us that the Darwinian struggle has not ended: Although no humans are in evidence, a gigantic crablike creature and a huge butterfly are at odds with each other. Again the Time Traveler escapes, this time to a point even further into the earth's future, the year 30,000,000. This time there can be no mistaking Wells's intention. The second law of thermodynamics is relentlessly at work: The earth is grinding to a halt, its face turned to a red, dying sun. In the eerie half light, the Time Traveler watches a huge, tentacled creature wait at the edge of a sluggish ocean. Life on land seems to have been reduced to lichens and simple plants; on earth, everything is floundering back toward the point of its origin: the slack-tided sea. The devolutionary, entropic metaphor extends to the rest of the universe as well, for the dying sun's increased gravitational pull is dragging the planets toward their destruction. At every stop in his journey, the Time Traveler has witnessed a world degenerating by degrees, and he has found nothing that offers any hope for reversing the process.
Yet he returns to his own present, to Victorian England, and makes a vain effort to convince his listeners that something must be done. His dinner guests scoff at his tales and refuse to heed his warnings. The only alternative remaining for the Time Traveler is to escape again into the future, with the hope that his individual efforts to produce a change will make the necessary difference. Wells leaves unanswered the question whether the Time Traveler succeeded, for the man never returns. Thus our future, insofar as the reader is concerned, remains in jeopardy, since we cannot know what effects the Time Traveler's warning might have had on future humans.
For this reason, The Time Machine must be read as a warning to his—and future—times: Those in power must work to change human destiny or face the doom awaiting the human race. The yearning for the status quo that seemed to be such a desirable result of industrial progress in Victorian England was the exact thing that would make the horrors of the Morlocks and the Eloi inevitable. To remain unthinking and unquestioning—as capitalist or as worker—would ensure the destruction of human vitality and the natural human impulse for good that Wells believed were the key ingredients of human progress. The technology-produced world of 802,701 is devoid of morality and empty of humans, a world in which the "highest" creatures, the Morlocks and the Eloi, seem able only to walk in place, do what they have been programmed to do, and wait for the end.



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